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With thanks to Pip and Alan Hadler and Phil Page

Whitstable Memories of the Rockabeats

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If you were a teenager of 1960s Whitstable, there is a name that you will almost certainly have stored in your memory bank.... along with those of the Beatles, Swinging Blue Jeans and Searchers. It is of course "The Rock-a-Beats".... the town's most revered pop group of those Swinging Years.

Who will ever forget those nights at the Parish Hall when the Rock-a-Beats and other local groups (such as the Spartacans) turned Whitstable's Oxford Street into Merseyside for the benefit of local youngsters. By then, fashion and music had become inextricably linked and the group went on to acquire a very sophisticated and professional look....

   

The Rock-a-Beats: Ray Page (rhythm guitar), Roger Head (drums), 
Dave Harvey (base guitar), Phil 'Pip' Hadler (lead guitar)
(Photo kindly supplied by Alan and Pip Hadler)

 

.... but it wasn't always like that! If we move  a yard or two further south along Oxford Street and turn the clock back to the late 1950s, we pick up a less smooth but no less fascinating scene....

   

 

The Black Cats: Ray Page (guitar), Dave Dennis (tea chest base), Phil 'Pip' Hadler (guitar) and Paul Foad (drums).
(Photo kindly supplied by Alan and Pip Hadler)

 

Yup, this shot of "The Black Cats" skiffle group actually records the origins of the Rock-a-Beats... albeit with a slightly different line up. 

Kindly supplied by Alan and Pip Hadler, these are two of my favourite photos from the Simply Whistable web site because they bring back so many memories. They also enable me to make some general comments about those far off days. So, let's take a closer look.

The pictures straddle a boundary between decades that were quite different but inextricably linked. In fact, the swinging sixties had their origins quite firmly rooted in the mid-to-late 1950s. The metamorphosis of the Black Cats into Rock-a-Beats was local evidence of a transition that was taking place throughout the western world. 

The Black Cat photo was actually taken during a talent contest at the Oxford cinema (now the Oxford Bingo Hall) . By then, cinemas were starting to wilt under competition from other entertainments. Norman Wisdom was still packing them in.... but Randolph Scott was in trouble! 

Television was arriving and the town's first TV Rental Company (Rentaset) was about to make home entertainment affordable for a large section of the local community. The Oxford became innovative... by mixing traditional cinema with live attractions in order to fight the battle for customers. Apart from staging shows for undiscovered talent, it also attracted some established performers. In fact, Alan Hadler recalls seeing Craig Davis (of "She was only 16" fame) performing there. 

All this probably explains why The Oxford became a Bingo Hall some years after its rival (the Regal in High Street) became Whitstable's first supermarket (Fine Fare - now Somerfields). Mind you, central heating also played a part... because the Oxford was always several degrees warmer than the Regal! The Fine Fare shop also brought with it another innovation - the Town's very first Chinese Restaurant (The Jasmine Tree) on the first floor!

The 1950s was a period of austerity in the aftermath of World War II. However, it was also a time of greater freedom for youngsters. I am not sure why. Maybe, a world conflict had wearied our parents and made them want to build a society of greater freedom and understanding. Maybe, they felt that their own youth had been taken from them by war duties and wanted something better for their kids.

Whatever the reason, young people had opportunity but little money. It was an interesting combination because it encouraged something very important.... invention! Thus, skiffle and young exponents such as the Black Cats burst onto the scene... with ideas.... tea chests.... and drum kits with a single drum!

For similar reasons, things were changing worldwide. Young people were questioning and re-inventing the world of music with Rock 'n Roll and the more innovative mixes pursued by new icons such as Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. At the dawn of the 1960s, the Everly Brothers would add their own brand of harmony and create the circumstances in which the Beatles could get to work.

There was perhaps one other major factor involved in spanning that boundary between 1950s and 1960s. The economy was on "the up". The war had left the world short of skilled workers and jobs required greater adaptability to cope with new techniques. The poorly paid young apprentices of the 1950s became the better paid young employees of the 1960s.

Young people now had money without financial commitment and became a major influence in the market place. However, their market was one that older people couldn't understand or satisfy. Thus, youngsters became both customers.... and suppliers. The biggest impacts were felt in the worlds of fashion and music where young performers and entrepreneurs took control. The 1960s were typified by entertainment for young people by young people... and it was something that had never happened before.  

Against this background, some of the Black Cats moved on to the more sophisticated image and performances of the Rock-a-Beats. However, changes needed to be made and some involved pretty basic matters.... such as the name of the group itself. Phil Page explains..... 

  

Unfortunately, there was a professional outfit recording under the Black Cat name.... hence the change.

They graduated to the Fender Stratocaster and later Rock-a-Beats. The rest is local history. 

Phil Page
Ramsgate

 

There was also some craftsmanship involved in the early days of the transition...

 

I recall Pip Hadler's dad (Chels Hadler) making their first guitars in his shed as he was a first class woodworker. 

Phil Page
Ramsgate

   

After making a name locally, the Rock-a-Beats extended their reputation throughout the county and beyond..... as the newsclip (below) explains ...

  

  

What memories! And, of course, it didn't end with the passing of the 1960s. The Rock-a-Beats have had a couple of  reunions - with a Charity Concert for Dave Lee's Happy Holiday Appeal at the Westgate Hall, Canterbury and a big performance at the Marlowe Theatre. Thus, it is a group that not only crossed a boundary between two eras....  but also one that survived a further four! 

Phil Hadler and Ray Page still live in Whitstable and take part in local events. Dave Harvey resides in Australia but returned to the UK for the charity concert at the Westgate Hall.

It's a Whitstable success story to be celebrated and recorded.... and we would like to express our  thanks to Phil Hadler, Alan Hadler and Phil Page for enabling us to do so.  Wouldn't it be great to see the Rock-a-Beats back on a stage where they originated.... in Whitstable!

  


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